Animals lovers’ eyes light up when they see dogs. Even those who are otherwise aloof will soften and warm up when a canine companion is spotted in passing on a street or room. Children take it a whole other level, oohing and awing whenever they spot a dog. What many people don’t realize is this natural and often lovely tendency to fawn over dogs or other pets can sometimes be distracting and downright dangerous.
One woman and mother, Larua Joos, shared her story about what happened to her when a family attempted to interfere with her service dog, Polly at a Walmart store. Sure, Polly was adorable, but she was also working. Although the mother and her children didn’t know it, Polly was performing a vital function, protecting her handler, who was in danger of losing consciousness due to a serious health condition.
It’s a scene that many of us have seen whenever we see service dogs. Children respond as they would to any dog, with excitement and a desire to reach out and pet them.
Joos explained what happened and the serious consequences for a seemingly innocent interaction.
“Dear fellow mom in Walmart,
I saw you coming down the aisle towards me, your three kids in tow, I get it being a mom is hard work sometimes. Your youngest in the cart, your older two walking next to you.
I could hear you from far away “yes look doggy, woof woof!” Your kids walking faster arms stretched out. They were excited! ‘A DOG! A DOG!’ They called out,” she wrote.
It’s a scenario that people with service dogs anticipate. It can happen multiple times anytime they venture out, and each time, it’s a serious and eventually exhausting problem. Joos braced herself for the inevitable. She knew the kids would try to pet her dog. What they didn’t know they were putting her in harm’s way.
“I was dreading it, I knew your kids were going to try and pet my dog. I knew you had no intention of telling them ‘don’t pet the dog, it’s working.’
I tried to put space between me and the people in front of me, so when it was my turn to walk by I could do it quickly, however, my attempts to do so failed and I had to slowly walk past you and your kids,” she wrote.
Joos wasn’t being antisocial. She just wanted to get through the store safely and allow Polly to help her do so. Then something shocking happened.
“Your daughter reached out and SMACKED my dog, hard an Audible thud as her hand hit her back.
My dog is highly trained, so luckily for your daughter, the only reaction out of my dog was a tail tuck, and a quick Scurry up in front of me to get away from her.
“I told you ‘she’s a service dog.’
please teach your kids not to pet them.”
Joos had seen it many times before, but she wanted to tell the stranger how their behavior was a bigger problem than they thought.
“And maybe you were having a bad day, maybe you think your the worlds best mom, maybe you just think your kids are angels and can do no wrong and allow them to do whatever they want. I don’t know.
I have never seen you before, I may never see you again, but I hope that if I do, you have done a better job at trying to help your children, how to behave better around service dogs,” she wrote.
Although all the mother and her kids saw was a cute dog and a woman shopping, what they didn’t know was she may not have been able to make it out of the store. She was in pain and her heart rate was pounding. Meanwhile, Polly was too distracted by the commotion to protect and alert her keeper to the danger.
“Here is what you didn’t see. Five minutes before I saw you I got an alert from my dog, my heart rate was steadily climbing, my chest was becoming tight, my vision was going fuzzy, I felt like I was underwater.
You couldn’t tell my hip was sliding in and out of place and every step I took was painful, agonizing. You couldn’t see that your daughter’s actions caused my dog to miss a second alert. My heart rate now nearly 120, I felt like I was going to vomit, luckily I made it to my car before The full effects of my heart rate hit me, like a ton of bricks.
“I almost lost Consciousness. Luckily my kids didn’t have to stand over their mother in the middle of the grocery store waiting for her to wake up.
Luckily your kids didn’t have to see some woman hit the ground, it can be scary for young kids, and even some adults.”
When Joos explained that she didn’t want the kids to pet her service dog, the woman snapped at her. Again, it’s something people with service dogs see all the time, but it’s shouldn’t be that way.
“I’m sorry that my ‘tip’ to help you help your kids, and help the service dog Community, pissed you off, and you felt the need to snap at me ‘EXCUSE YOU’ in a snotty holier than thou tone, but yes, excuse me, excuse me for expecting YOU as an adult to teach the children you are raising to be respectful of disabled individuals. I’m sure you wouldn’t allow them to grab someone’s cane, or yank on their nasal cannula that supplies their oxygen,” she wrote.
Joos wanted this fellow mom to know that there is a much better way to react when they see a service dog or other animal. While we all have the natural urge to react with pleasure and want to interact with animals, these special animals have a vital job to do. We can appreciate them from afar and give them and their handlers the respect and understanding they need to go about their daily lives as safely as possible.
“My dog provides life-saving assistance to me every day. She keeps me alive, and safe so that my kids, can enjoy their mother.”
“I’m not asking much. I’m just asking you to give the same respect you would expect, had you been the disabled mother and service dog handler. So mom, if your reading this, know I’m not mad, just disappointed.
Disappointed you didn’t apologize, disappointed that I can’t shop without fear of your kids hitting my dog, disappointed that as a mom to another mom you reacted the way you did,” she wrote.
The story is an important one and helps explain why everyone needs to be aware of the best way to react when they see service animals around them. It’s important to know that while many people outfit their service animals with special vests, harnesses, and identification, the law does not require them to do so. When in doubt, give animals some space and be aware they might be working.
Jocelynn Johnson, founder of the Civil Servants with Abilities Network, explains:
“There is never a good time to distract a service animal when they are working.”
For more information on how to respond when you see a person with a service dog, watch this great video from TEDxTalks below:
Featured image: Screenshot via Facebook/Laura Joos